We recently sat down with Byron Schlomach, State Policy Director for the 1889 Institute. While the Institute is relatively new to the state, Schlomach’s experience brings a depth of knowledge to the think tank.
1. Tell us about your roots.
I grew up in Archer City, Texas a small town of 1,800 about 40 miles south of the Red River, squarely in Tornado Alley and where the tornado siren sounded at noon every day, not just Saturdays. So, the tornado warnings last spring were familiar, though I’d not experienced that in over 30 years. One thing I truly missed when I left home for Texas A&M was the spectacular sunsets at the end of a stormy day. Being a small-town/rural guy at heart, I like horizons unobstructed by too many trees, huge buildings, and super highways. My move to Oklahoma City after almost 8 years in Phoenix is my first to a metro smaller than I’d lived in immediately before. My accent sounds more normal here than it did even in Austin, although linguists call it “Texas Southern.” In many ways, I’m more at home here than anywhere since I’ve left home.
My roots are this area of the country. I’m closest to my parents now than any time since leaving home. But my deep roots are still in Texas, where most of my family lives. My great-great grandfather brought his family from Prussia in 1875 and settled in Burnet, near Austin, where farming is hard due to the thin soil and there were few other Germans. A house built by my family of rough, homemade concrete 140 years ago still stands, though it is no longer family owned. I’m also of Scottish decent, with some Cherokee blood, supposedly, on my mother’s side.
My dad was a medical doctor, but my brothers and I experienced true country life through family friends. Consequently, I have a yearning for self-sufficiency and am an avid do-it-yourselfer. I’ve never farmed anything but a lawn or raised anything other than dogs and cats, though.
2. What does the State Policy Director do?
I research, write, appear on radio and TV, will testify if called upon, and deliver speeches. I also administer the Institute’s website, edit papers from other scholars, and see to their online publication. Right now, the 1889 Institute has a president, Vance Fried, an Oklahoma State University academic, who is strictly part-time, and me. So, I am the primary research generator.
3. What are you/1889 hoping to accomplish?
The Institute is concerned with five fairly broad policy areas: welfare, education, health care, economic development, and state fiscal health. We come at these issues from a strong free enterprise, limited government perspective. But what motivates everything is the desire to see everyone free to use his talents to maximum potential and value as defined by free human beings. As has been argued by intellects far greater than us, this is best accomplished through largely unregulated free markets in a system where private property rights and contracts are enforced. We look for and write about policies, accordingly. We believe, for example, Oklahoma would greatly benefit from Education Savings Accounts, a system that puts parents in charge of their children’s educations.
4. What would you say are the three most pressing issues in our state?
Education, the federal government, and the tax system.
Oklahoma does not do public education very well and the funding issue is overblown, as it always is in this country. The key is to bring greater accountability through educational choice.
The federal government has, in some ways, commandeered states, especially in health care. This state is especially under threat with respect to energy policy. The Institute’s priority is on the state budget and the degree to which Oklahoma should resist the temptation to claim federal funds in exchange for lost sovereignty.
When corporate board members fly in from out-of-state and have to fill out withholding statements, it becomes obvious why they might prefer meetings in Dallas. Oklahoma suffers from having an income tax. Taxes in this state are misapplied. And, there is too much talk about increasing taxes for education.
5. What do you do in your spare time?
I read, mostly non-fiction. I especially enjoy reading about World War II, and have since I was in high school. As mentioned before, I’m also a do-it-yourselfer. I maintain a very old motorhome, do home improvement, and enjoy carpentry. I also enjoy a brisk motorcycle ride. When it comes to sports, well, I’m a Texas Aggie and I always catch the football games on TV.